15 May 2007

Fat Politics?

"Any time a fat person gets on a stage to perform and
is not the butt of a joke — that’s a political statement."
- Heather MacAllister

From “Full Body Project” © Leonard Nimoy

Somewhat surprisingly, I find this story from The New York Times on the photography of Leonard Nimoy quite thought-provoking. The story focuses primarily on Nimoy's pictures of fat women (euphemisms like "big," or "heavy" or "overweight" seem out of place for reasons that hopefully will become clear). At first I figured this was just another celebrity puff piece. Then I thought that Nimoy's "Full Body Project" was just silly if not downright weird; sure, we ought not to be obsessed with thinness and we especially shouldn't be pushing such distorted, esteem threatening body images onto young women. But why should we celebrate obesity instead? After all, there is plenty of press and academic research of late on the "epidemic"of obesity. It is, after all, a matter of health. Right?

Having spent a considerable amount of time here criticizing fashion photographers who glorify (exploit?) cadaverous models*, a question naturally arises. Why do we find images of fat women like those Nimoy presents disturbing (Terrifying? Revolting? Disgusting?) while we do not find images of women at the other extreme of the distribution of height/weight ratio similarly problematic? There is a deep question here about social and cultural norms and how photography might be used to challenge them. I think Heather MacAllister is right. And despite my initial preconceptions, I think perhaps Nimoy is making a political statement. In this he resembles Arbus and Mapplethorpe - photographers whose work, in different ways, compels us to confront the prejudices and cruelties embodied in our basic understandings of normalcy and deviance. I am not claiming that Nimoy is a photograpaher of the same stature as Arbus and Mapplethorpe, only that his images are political in an analogous way.
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* For a sampling of my rants see this post and the others it links to.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Joerg said...

I agree. People will probably dismiss as just another celebrity taking photos, which, of course, is a convenient way to avoid dealing with the topic. I had linked to his work on my blog a while ago for the same reasons that you now mentioned his article: His photography of obese women is interesting for reasons that most women - those who don't look like anorexic models - will be happy (or usually quite unhappy) to confirm.

Two things that irked me about the article, though. First, the claim "Their explicitness prevents the images from being reprinted here" - to me, it's obvious that they wouldn't have had a problem reprinting images of naked models. And second, at the end of the article, the author just needs to get back to the question of whether Mr Nimoy finds obese women sexually attractive.

15 May, 2007 07:59  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Joerg, I missed you post but I agree with your two criticisms of the article. I thought of mentionedding the first and then decided to just let it go .... (it was late and I was tired!). The ending of the article is actually troubling too.

15 May, 2007 09:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim,

I admit that I have not looked at the rest of Nimoy’s “Full Body Project,” but I do find his work troubling. I agree that our obsession with thinness has left many women and girls literally dying to achieve the “perfect body.” This is an issue that must be addressed. However, I question why Nimoy must celebrate fat naked women. It seems to me that this piece says that fat women can be objectified and used just like thin women. Fashion photographers exploit thin women, and he exploits fat women. Likewise I don’t see his work with women wearing religious clothing generally only worn by men as advocating for the equality of women, because he chose to place these women in sexually explicit poses. To me, Nimoy’s message across collections is that no matter what women wear or look like, they exist to be gazed at and to be used. He just does this under the guise of feminism by seemingly challenging the status quo that idealizes thin feminine women.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I were to see all of Nimoy's collection, but the article does nothing to make me want to run out and take a look.

15 May, 2007 10:36  
Blogger Stan B. said...

We live in a freedom loving country whose every inch was stolen at the point of a gun. We worship a god who told us to "love your enemy" and are willing to kill in his name. We bestow celebrity on our thinnest of females and make love to the most overweight on earth. So where's the problem?

15 May, 2007 13:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, "fat politics" has actually emerged in the presidential race, although via a 2nd tier candidate. Governor Huckabee, having lost over 100 pounds himself frequently discusses the issue from the stump, as one of public health. I'm skeptical this will go anywhere, but it's an interesting issue for someone running as a social conservative to trumpet nonetheless. I can't see him winning to many Republican caucus-goers over in Iowa by pointing out how obese many of them are.

To get to a point, I think it is a relevant issue of public health in the same way that smoking is. We all pay for it, although indirectly, through medicaid, etc.

18 May, 2007 22:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These women are absolutely disgusting!!

26 May, 2007 14:00  

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